Daily Herald
Where will Lee be six months from now? Success not guaranteed
By Jamie Sotonoff | Daily Herald Staff
Published: 5/14/2010 12:06 AM | Updated: 5/14/2010 11:41 AM

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Not everyone who finishes in the top three of "American Idol" becomes a Carrie Underwood, a Kelly Clarkson or a Chris Daughtry.

Season 5 winner Taylor Hicks is currently in Cleveland, starring in a touring production of "Grease." Season 1 third place finisher Nikki McKibbin became a drug addict - a downward spiral she partially attributed to criticism she got from Idol judge Simon Cowell - but got clean in 2008 on VH1's reality TV show, "Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew."

Season 4 third place finisher Vonzell Solomon just finished a run with "The Wizard of Oz" in Lubbock, Texas.

So what will become of Lee DeWyze's career after Idol? Will he soon hold an armful of Grammy Awards, or will his white-hot music career go into a Spinal Tap-ish free fall?

DeWyze's fans are confident he'll be a big star, and vow to download his albums and buy tickets to his concerts long after the Idol spotlight fades.

Others who study Idol and understand the workings of the music business say post-Idol success is a tricky thing to achieve, that very few finalists or even winners have managed to pull it off.

"(Lee's) definitely going to have a career and stick around for a few years," said Tom Breihan, of Chicago, who writes for pitchfork.com and blogs about Idol for the Village Voice in New York City.

However, Breihan sees DeWyze as being only moderately successful - like David Cook, with a Billboard Top 100 hit or two, rather than becoming a blockbuster artist.

"(Lee's) not an electric personality. He has this nice guy thing going for him ... so it'll all depend on what type of records he puts out," Breihan said, adding that he prefers DeWyze's R&B sound to his grunge, rock or light pop.

"Crystal Bowersox is going to be a big star. Lee's much more of a question mark."

Big personalities abound in the pop music business now - performers like Lady Gaga, Beyoncé and Black Eyed Peas top the charts. Yet DeWyze's "every man" appeal shouldn't be underestimated, says Maura Johnston, a music industry follower who blogs about Idol for Comcast's Fancast site.

"The one thing about Lee is that his fans are insanely devoted. Whenever I mention him in my recaps, and I don't say he was the best, A-plus-times-nine, the knives come out," Johnston said, laughing. "Lee engenders this deep devotion from fans."

Even though Johnston likes DeWyze, she says it doesn't mean she'll automatically buy his first post-Idol album.

That's a problem for Idol finalists, Johnston says: They can't record a CD until after they're done with their national tour. So by the time they release their first CD, fans' devotion can fade.

"There's a certain element of the Idol audiences that's vested enough to call and text vote," Johnston said. "But once time passes - and it's usually at least six months between the end of Idol and the release of their first album - a lot of it's gone away. They've moved on to someone else."

If there was a way for DeWyze to rush-release an album while he's still an Idol sweetheart, he should, Johnston said.

Regardless of whether he wins or loses, DeWyze has mixed his last gallon for Mount Prospect Paint.

The New York Times recently reported that American Idol finalists who finish in the Top 5 are likely to earn close to $100,000 from the show - and three to four times that if the Idol producers sign them to a record deal.

Not everyone sees DeWyze achieving superstardom. Dave Della Terza, the suburban Chicago resident who created the snarky and popular Idol blog, votefortheworst.com, described DeWyze as "likable" but not a superstar. (He declines to publicly reveal what suburb he lives in, because he's had death threats from Idol fans in the past).

"Chris Daughtry was the last real success from that show, and that was, what, four or five years ago? (Lee's) odds aren't looking too good," Della Terza said.

"The best you can hope for Lee is that he gets a hit on an adult contemporary station. (The Idol finalists) think they have fans of all ages ... but they don't realize that Idol's fan block is middle-aged women."

Della Terza, who regularly discusses Idol on The Howard Stern Show, says rabid Idol fans can hurt their favorite singer by alienating him to the music industry when they act ridiculously and annoy radio stations with their demands.

He cited Clay Aiken's fans, saying they feel like they own his career.

"(Lee's fans) will either kill his career, or he might be lucky, like a Carrie Underwood," he said. "But it's probably not going to happen."

Johnston is more optimistic.

"If he wins, he'll be remembered," she said. "And I think he's going to win."

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